Sunday, July 16, 2017

Walls and Borders - Boundaries Past and Present



10 to 15 July, 2017 - Suwon, Seoul, DMZ, Panmunjom - (South Korea)

Kimchi. The first few times it was served, we ate most of it. The next few times, some. And towards the end of the trip, I have eaten a bit and Jo has hardly touched it. The taste of spicy pickled cabbage is certainly not growing on us, despite (or perhaps because) it being served up twice a day with every meal. Other than the kimchi, and one or two other accompaniaments, not a single dish we have had in Korea has disappointed.

Back near Seoul, in Suwon, weather affected us for the first time. Persistent rain meant we spent the afternoon wandering in markets and drinking coffees instead of visiting the walls. Next morning, sun shining, we walked the entire 6 kilometres or so of the Suwon city walls. Certainly a trip highlight.

Paldalmun, Suwon
Paldalmun, Suwon
Also known as Nammun, or South Gate. Part of the amazing walls of Suwon.


A Baby Raccoon
A Baby Raccoon
He looked too young to be on his own. Tentative and unsure, and not quite steady on his feet. But he found a nice spot in the sun, back against the city wall, and promptly went to sleep.


Tolling the Hyowon Bell
Tolling the Hyowon Bell
Not too much effort was required. Long after the initial "bong" rung out, it was still humming, a low vibration taking a minute or more to fully dissipate from the large bronze bell. We leant back against it and let the resonance ripple through our backs like a little massage.


Walls of Suwon
Walls of Suwon
A section of the impressive walls, snaking around and over the hills. We walked the entire length, nearly 6 kilometres.


The Watergate, Hwahongmon
The Watergate, Hwahongmon
As depicted on the Hyowon Bell!


Jeongjadong Cathedral, Suwon
Jeongjadong Cathedral, Suwon
The massive cathedral dwarfing everything around it, beyond the city walls of Suwon.


Back to Seoul for the last few nights of our holiday.

Highlights from a Seoul Menu
Highlights from a Seoul Menu
This menu had a number of gems. But these four particularly tickled our fancies. Not sure if any of it is not in public morals, but good anchovies over my body may be pushing the boundaries a bit.


Evening Inside Deoksugung
Evening Inside Deoksugung
We were on our way here, and were sidetracked by a concert in Seoul Plaza (note lights shining up in background of pic). The delay meant we arrived at the gates of Deoksugong ten minutes after last entry. The first guard was quick to indicate we were too late and would have to return another day, but another came over, smiled, waved us in, and told us to remember they close soon. We still had ample time to enjoy this wonderful palace as the lights came on.


Under an Eave in Deoksugung
Under an Eave in Deoksugung
During an evening visit to the palace of Deoksugung in Seoul.



N Seoul Tower, Seoul, South Korea
Click on photo to change focus and perspective.


View from N Seoul Tower
View from N Seoul Tower
The men's room, N Seoul Tower.


Those who know us understand that doing a tour of any sort is not our style. However, there are things that cannot be done without a tour. Visiting the Joint Security (JSA) is one of those things. This is the zone that straddles the border between North and South Korea, within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Some familiar (from footage) blue buildings where the two sides come together, only very occasionally, to talk and accuse.

The first part of the day, the DMZ tour, was mixed. A visit to a North Korean infiltration tunnel ("tunnel number 3") had interest, but the South Korean propaganda video that we were forced to endure was equally humurous and unnecessary, and lacked any substance that could be called informative. The tunnel itself (quite a hike down, and of course afterwards, a tougher hike up) was good to see, but then we were not given time to see the museum on our own.

After this, stop two was a mountain lookout over the border. A sign showed us what we should see, and we could identify the very tall south, and even taller north, flagpoles. Haze prevented us from making out the giant statues of the Kims, and obscured details of the North Korean cities. The highlight of the stop was listening to the "hymn" to Kim Il Sung that was being blasted across the border from the other side. (The retaliation is apparently a good dose of K-Pop!)

Thirdly, described as a symbol of hope, the Dorasan railway station. However, as it is not fufilling its primary purpose, I felt it was a symbol of disappointment and non-fulfilment. It was built to be the station that connected the two Koreas, but it still only sees services south to Seoul. The signage indicates which platform trains to Pyongyang should depart from, but the service has never started.

Finally, for the morning, a pretty good lunch at the Peace Park. This park is the site of a number of monuments and memorials, including a bridge where POWs were exchanged in the 50's, and a shot up steam train from the war.

After lunch, a visit to the JSA, which was our main reason for doing the tour. A briefing by the U.S. and ROK soldiers, outlining protocols and behaviour, before being ushered on to a bus. This took us to the centre of the JSA, the eye of the storm. We had a couple of strictly controlled photo opportunities, outside and inside the buildings. Crossed to North Korea in the process. And then got "thrown out" when a lady broke the rule about crossing in front of the guard, twice. Once she crossed, and got told off by the guide, and so she crossed back again the way she had come. That seemed to be it, then, and we were wrapped up, formed our two lines, and walked back to the bus. The JSA portion is now only 2 spots - they used to include the site of a brutal axe-murder, and another, but due to security concerns, those others are now excluded.

Steam Engine Riddled with Bullet Holes
Steam Engine Riddled with Bullet Holes
Shot up and derailed during the Korean war, this locomotive sat rusting between the two Koreas for many decades. Recently, it was recovered and set up in Imjingak park.


Meeting Rooms Straddling the Line
Meeting Rooms Straddling the Line
There, over there, beyond the blue buildings, just there, that's North Korea. You can see the line. No fence, no gate, no wall. A line. Permanent tension and readiness pervades the entire Joint Security Area. Protocol, rules, regulations. Restrictions on clothing; restrictions on gestures. Both sides keep an eye on everything the visitors do.


A North Korean Soldier
A North Korean Soldier
We didn't see him when we were there, taking our pictures. Apparently, they tend to skulk in the shadows a bit when visitors come. Standing behind pillars or around corners. After leaving, and looking over our pictures, we found him there. Not particularly recognisable, I know.


Jo, Technically in North Korea
Jo, Technically in North Korea
Such a rebel, hey...


Richard, Technically in South Korea
Richard, Technically in South Korea
We were free to walk around inside the small room straddling the border. It was just a matter of which side of the guard you were standing that dictated which country you were in.


All in all, we have had a wonderful fortnight in South Korea, and it certainly warrants a return visit. (Keep reading below for week 1 of the trip.)

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